The beginnings of the history of rocketry are shrouded in the mists of time. Mongol chronicles from 1232 report that the Chinese used "arrows of flying fire" against them in their defense of the city of K'ai-feng . Since they also reported another weapon used which they called "heaven shaking thunder", historians have concluded that this was the first recorded use of gunpowder to make primitive bombs and rockets in history.
The Mongols were quick to grasp the new technology, using rockets against Russia in the Battle of Legnica in 1241. The Arabs used rockets in their Iberian campaigns in 1249, and other European powers soon followed. The construction techniques of these first rocket was not recorded, and no rockets have survived. They were probably made of tightly wrapped paper tubes packed with gunpowder. These rockets had a very limited range, and no directional control.
A German army colonel, history has not recorded his name, made the first major construction improvement in 1668, constructing rockets from wood which had been wrapped in glue soaked sailcloth. The rocket weighed 132 pounds and contained a 16 pound charge of powder. These rockets had more range than previous one, but rockets were still little used, except in the fireworks displays which had become popular in Europe during this time.
An Indian prince - Hyder Ali, made the next major improvement in rocket design. His hammered soft iron rocket body was the first metal body rocket. It could develop higher internal pressure than earlier rockets enabling it to hold a larger powder charge, giving a range of almost a mile. This weapon still had no directional control, but was very effective against cavalry troops if fired em masse either in the air, or sent skimming over the ground. The British found this out, to their dismay, in the wars against India in the 1700’s.
This weapon caused a bit of a stir in Europe, giving Sir William Congreve an incentive to experiment with rocket construction. Due to his efforts, black powder mixes and rocket construction were improved and standardized. He developed timed explosives and incendiary charges. He designed eight different rocket sizes with ranges from 1/2 to two miles.
The Congreve rocket was used in many military campaigns in Europe and elsewhere. The British Army organized rocket brigades to bombard enemy positions. It was the Congreve rocket bombardment during the war of 1812 which inspired Francis Scott Keye to write The Star Spangled Banner.
William Hale designed rocket fins which would cause the rocket to spin, around 1850, giving the rocket more stability, thus improving its accuracy. Advances in artillery pieces outpaced rocket design improvements and artillery displaced the rocket. Rockets still found use in swampy or mountainous terrain where the heavy artillery pieces were hard or impossible to transport.
A Swede, Wilhelm Unge, made the next improvement in the rocket. He called his creation an "aerial torpedo", made for defense against dirigibles. His improvements consisted of an improved rocket motor nozzle and a switch from gunpowder to a nitroglycerin based propellant. The Krupp armament firm in Germany obtained the patents for this devise in 1909, and experimented further.
About this time, an American named Robert Hutchings Goddard began experiments in rocketry. During W.W.I, he developed small rockets which were the later developed into the bazooka.
Besides Goddard, others in the US were experimenting with rockets. Elmer and his son Lawrence Sperry developed an "Arial torpedo" in 1917, which utilized gyroscopic control to allow the rocket to fly to a preselected target. Charles F. Kettering in 1918 designed a rocket which used both gyroscopic and barometric control to achieve both altitude and directional control.
By the late nineteenth century, scientists were envisioning rocket powered space flight. This dream began to take shape with additional work from Goddard, who developed the liquid fuel rocket in the 1920's, with the first launch in 1926. He also launched the first instrument carrying rocket in 1929. He proposed the first serious plan to reach the moon with rocket powered flight, and it was Goddard more than anyone else who laid the foundation of the modern space program.
The Germans, because of a concentrated effort, were ahead of everyone else in rocket technology at the beginning of W.W.II. Under the direction of Dr. Werner Von Braun, the German Army developed a long range ballistic missile on the isolated island of Peenemunde in the late 1930’s.
The Germans utilized a variety of rockets during the war, the most ‘famous’ of which was the V-2, which scourged Britain. Most of these rockets were fired from mobile launchers, which could be hidden from Allied air attack, and moved into position when needed.
After the war, most of the initial rocket research was into intercontinental ballistic missile systems which could deliver nuclear weapons to faraway places. Surface to air missals were also made for defense against air attack. Air to air missals were made for blasting other planes out of the sky, and missals were developed to blast targets from the airplane to targets on the ground.
The most exciting rocket research, however, was the American and Russian developments which were to launch men into space, as envisioned by Goddard, and about a zillion science fiction writers. The rocket carried men to the moon in 1969, and will enable us to visit the other planets. The rocket and the science of rocketry has been an important story in our history and will become more important as time advances.
Lessons Learned From the Model Rocketry Hobby
History of the Rocket and Rocketry Part 2
Types Of Rockets - Skill Levels
Model Rocket Parts And What They Do How To Build A Model Rocket - Make A Skill Level One Kit Back To Hobbies
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